Back in 2011, NASA launched its Juno spacecraft with the intent of sending it to Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, a full 588 million kilometers away when Earth and the gas giant are closest. Five years later, on July 4, 2016, Juno finally made its first pass around Jupiter, and now, another year later, we're getting our closest-ever views of the giant.
It was worth the wait.
Above, a series of photographs taken from Juno's most recent pass around Jupiter are stitched together by Sean Doran, colorized by Gerald Eichstädt, and set to music by Avi Solomon. The clip provides a completely stunning look at Jupiter's poles. Instead of orbiting around Jupiter's equator, Juno orbits around the planet's north and south poles. This is an unusual orbit for a space probe, and requires Juno to spend nearly 53 days away from Jupiter in exchange for two-hour's worth of flyby from one pole to the other. Again, for the view alone, worth it.
The unusual orbit has revealed a multitude of new, surprising features capping both poles of the mighty wanderer. As Juno posted to Facebook, there are "Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet’s surface than previously thought."
Juno's principal investigator, Scott Bolton, notes in a press release that it's unclear how the polar cyclones were formed, and how long they will last. "Are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we're going to watch it disappear," Bolton asks rhetorically, "or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”
Juno's close passes have given us a cosmic buffet of beautiful Jovanian stills — available in the image gallery below — that come from the onboard "JunoCam," an instrument that collects visual data, allowing researchers to see the poles in daylight, with enhanced color, and in stereographic projection. On Juno's next flyby on July 11, NASA says it will be taking photographs of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, which may be even more stunning than the poles.
What do you think about these photographs of Jupiter? Are you feeling yourself suddenly humbled by the scale and sublime nature of the universe? Let us know your thoughts below!
Images: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran/Vimeo
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